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“Willie” Frank Mitchell: The Lifeblood of Phi Delta Theta House

By Alex Learned
Hottytoddy.com intern

Oxford, Mississippi boasts an impressive list of former and current residents. Among them are the likes of John Grisham, William Faulkner, and Eli Manning. These individuals have certainly shaped the culture of the town, as well as influenced the university located at its center. A name that perhaps is all too unfamiliar, however, is “Willie” Frank Mitchell.

Mitchell has lived in Oxford his entire life and worked at the Phi Delta Theta house on campus for the last eight years. His name is not one widely known by Oxford residents, but his presence can be felt throughout the Ole Miss grounds by each and every person.

Willie Patton stands in front of Phi Delta Theta house where he works on a daily basis. Photo by Alex Learned.

Willie—the name everyone on campus knows him by—is a handyman of sorts and the lifeblood of the Phi Delta Theta house. He is there for every event from parents weekend, to a Friday night party, to breakfast in the mornings. When there is no event to plan for, he makes necessary improvements to the house like putting up Christmas lights or fixing the laundry machine. Willie has always played an enormous role behind the scenes, never unwavering in his work ethic or his love for the people who surround him.

Willie comes to work every day with pride, and a genuine dedication to the organization he works for, its well-being, and the individuals he encounters.

“When you can come to a job and you enjoy doing it, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said. “If you’re going somewhere you hate going, then that’s a problem. I come here at 5 a.m. in the morning, every morning. And I enjoy that.”

If someone is lucky enough to meet him and talk for a while, chances are they walked away with a great story or something equally as impactful. There is a calm, soothing, and comforting kindness that he radiates.

The commendable qualities exhibited by Willie on a daily basis did not develop out of thin air. Throughout his life, he’s stood in the face of extraordinary pain and loss. Being a young African American man in Mississippi in the 1970s was no easy task, especially for a family living close to the poverty line. Upon completion of middle school, the racial tension was so severe that it caused Willie to move to Fayetteville, North Carolina with his aunt for high school. Humbly downplaying the impact of his surroundings, he described his upbringing rather frankly.

“My life wasn’t hard. Growing up and all that, it was just the common life for a black person,” he said.

Following graduation, he returned to Mississippi and worked several maintenance jobs in the Memphis and Oxford areas. Eventually, he found a more permanent occupation working on the railroads where he stayed for 16 years developing a tough, hardworking mentality.

Former Phi Delta Theta President and current advisor, William Kneip, described Willie’s blue-collar work ethic and importance to the chapter.

Willie Patton hangs up a Christmas wreath. Photo by Alex Learned.

“Willie arrives to work every morning before the sun comes up,” he said. “He is the first person to tell us good morning as we walk into the dining room, still half-asleep, to grab some coffee and breakfast. He is an integral part of the glue that holds our chapter and its members together. He tells it like it is and is ready to give his thoughts on your problems whether you want them or not. I often tell our guys that we’d be lost without him and I hope he continues to work with us for 30 more years.”

The collective relationships with students, parents, and faculty alike mean a lot to him, Willie said. He’s spent a large portion of his life watching people grow up, changing from young men and women to adults. For him, one of his greatest sources of joy is hearing from alumni and others he first met while working.

“I appreciate it… you know, that they appreciate me. I get a real thrill out of that,” he said.

Current Phi Delta Theta brother and junior engineering student, Thomas Fortune, said having the opportunity to interact with Willie on a daily basis and soak up his infectious spirit has made his experience at Ole Miss unique.

“Willie is an extraordinarily loved and revered part of our fraternity. Not only is he an excellent worker, but an exemplary human being as well,” he said. “Quick with a joke or a smile, he always goes out of his way to make sure the people around him feel welcome. Willie is the type of guy to give you the shirt off his back, and he’d do it for anyone. He’s a lot of things to our fraternity, but most importantly, he’s our best friend.”

A particular phrase that comes to mind when thinking about Willie that really sums up his persona is “Everything’s cool.” It doesn’t matter what the situation is, or who he is talking to. If someone asks, “Hey, Willie. How’s it going?” or “Willie, you doing alright?” they are met with the same answer every single time: “Everything’s cool.”

“It comes with wisdom, you know?” Willie said. “As you get older, wisdom starts to set in. Even if it’s a bad day, you never know what could happen to turn it around. It’s so important to keep going. Keep moving on. I don’t take everything so serious. People don’t realize, but that’s how they get in such bad situations. They take things too serious…and nothing’s that serious, besides life.”

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